As the author of the Declaration of Independence and the third president of the United States, Thomas Jefferson is seen as a champion of liberty. Yet during his lifetime he owned more than 600 slaves and at the time of his death, more than 130 slaves were sold to pay off his debts.
An exhibit currently on display at the Missouri History Museum elaborates on this paradox.
"By our modern view, he was conflicted, because he understood, as he wrote, that slavery was an abomination. But he could not see a way out of it for himself or for the country," said Susan Stein. She is the Richard Gilder Senior Curator and Vice President for Museum Programs at Monticello, in Virginia.
"His greater concern was for the future of the country," said Stein. "He did not want slavery, the issue of slavery, to cleave the union."
And for all his focus on enlightenment, Jefferson also held the racist beliefs of his time.
"As a man of the enlightenment, he was guided by rational thought and observation," said Stein. "In his observation, he observed that African Americans were inferior in talent to white people. And he could not determine if that was because of their enslavement or because of other attributes."
Missouri History Museum Presents "Slavery at Jefferson's Monticello: Paradox of Liberty"
August 10, 2013 - March 2, 2014
Wednesday - Monday, 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Tuesday, 10:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.
Missouri History Museum, Lindell and DeBaliviere in Forest Park